« PreviousContinue »
roured to serve him without his own application, and wrote to my Lord Gower, but did not succeed. Mr. Johnson published afterwards another poem in Latin, with notes, the whole very humorous, called the Norfolk Prophecy.'
At the close of the year 1739, the friends of Savage commiserating his case, raised a subscription to enable that unfortunate genius to retire to Swansea; By which means Johnson was parted from his companion, and exempted from many temptations to dissipation and licentiousness, in which he indulged from his attachment to his friend, though contrary to the gravity of his own temper and disposition.
In the years 1740, 41, 42, and 43, he furnished for the Gentleman's Magazine,' a variety of publications, besides the Parliamentary Debates. Among these were the lives of several eminent men ; an essay on the account of the conduct of the Duke of Marlborough, then the pecular topic of conversation : and an advertisement for Osborne, concerning the “ Bibliotheca Harleiana, or a Catalogue of the Library of the Earl of Oxford.'-This was afterwards prefixers to the first volume of the catalogue, in which the Latin account of the books was written by him. Mr. Osborne purchased the library for 13,0001. a sum which Mr. Oldys says in one of his manuscripts was not more than the binding of the books had cost, ret the slowness of the sale was such, that there was not so much gained by it. It has been confidently related with many embellishments, that Johnson knocked Osborne down in his shop with a folio, and put his foot upon his neck. Johnson himself relates it differently to Mr. Boswell, Sir, he was impertinent to me, and I beat him : but it was not in his
shop, it was in my own chamber.' This anecdote has been told to prove Johnson's ferocity ; but the matter has been palliated by the friends of Johnson, who imputed it to the arrogant behaviour of the bookseller.
In 1744, he produced the Life of Savage, which he had announced his intention of writing in the Gentleman's Magazine,' for August 1743. This work did him infinite honour; being no sooner published, than the following liberal commendation was given of it by Fielding in the Chainpion,' which was copied into the 'Gentleman's Magazine' for April, and confirmed by the approbation of the public.
• This pamphlet is, without flattery to its author, as just and well written a piece, as any of its kind I
It is certainly penned with equal accu. racy and spirit; of which I am so much the better judge, as I know many of the facts to be strictly true and very fairly related. It is a very amusing and withal a very instructive and valuable perform
The author's observations are short, signifi. cant and just, and his narrative remarkably smooth, and well disposed. His reflections open to all the recesses of the human heart; and in a word, a more just or pleasant, a more engaging, or a more instructive treatise in the excellencies and defects of human nature, is scarce to be found in our own, or perhaps any other language.'
Johnson, great as his abilities confessedly were, had now lived half his days to very little purpose; he had toiled and la boured, yet as he himself expresses it, it was to provide for the day that was passing over him.' Sir John Hawkins has preserved a list of literary projects of no less than thirty-nine articles,
which he had formed in the course of his studies ; but such was his want of encouragement, or the versatility of his temper, that not one of all those projects was ever executed. He now formed a plan for a new edition of Shakespeare; but in this he was anticipated by Warburton, of whose competency for the undertaking the public had then a very high opinion. The preparatory pamphlet however, which Johnson had published upon the occasion, was highly commended by that supercilious churchman, who spoke of it as the work of a man of great parts and genius. Johnson ever acknowleged the obligation with gratitude, “He praised me, said he, at a time when praise was of value to me.'
In 1746 he formed and digested the plan of his great philological work, which might then be well esteemed one of the desiderata of English literature : It was announced to the public in 1747, in a pamphlet entitled ' The Plan of a Dictionary of the English language, addressed to the Right Honourable Philip Dormer, Earl of Chesterfield, one of his Majesty's principal secretaries of state. The hint of undertaking this work is said to have been first suggested to Johnson by Dodsley, who contracted with him for the execution of it in conjunction with Mr. Charles Hitch, Mr. Andrew Millar, the two Messrs. Longman and the two Messrs. Knapton. The price stipulated was 15751. The cause of its being inscribed to Lord Chesterfield is thus related : I had neglected,' said Johnson, “ to write it by the time appointed. Dodsley suggested a desire to have it addressed to Lord Chesterfield. I laid hold of this as a pretext for the delay, that it might be better done, and let Dodsley have his desire.'
To enable him to complete this vast undertaking, he hired a house, fitted up one of the upper rooms after the manner of a counting house, and employed six amanuenses there in transcribing. The words partly taken from other dictionaries, and partly supplied by himself, having been first written down with spaces between them; he delivered in writing their etymologies, definitions and various significations. The authorities were copied from the books themselves, in which he had marked the several passages with a black lead pencil, the traces of which could easily be effaced.
His fortunate pupil Garrick having in the course of this year become joint patentee and manager of Drury Lane theatre, Johnson furnished him with a prologue at the opening of it, which for just and manly criticism, as well as poetical excellence, is unrivalled in that species of composition.
In 1748, he formed a club that met at a chop-house in Ivy Lane every Tuesday evening, with a view to enjoy literary discussion, and the pleasure of animated relaxation. They used to dispute about the moral sense and the fitness of things, but Johnson was not uniform in his opinions, contending as often for victory as for truth. This inclination prevailed with him throughout life.
The year following he published • The Vanity of Human Wishes, being the tenth Satire of Juvenal imitated,' with his name. This poem is characterized by profound reflection, more than pointed spirit. It has however been always held in high esteem. The instances of the variety of disappointments are chosen so judiciously, and painted so strongly, that the moment they are read, they bring conviction to every thinking mind.
The same year his tragedy of Irene, which had long been kept back for want of encouragement, appeared upon the stage at Drury Lane, thrcugh the kindness of his friend Garrick. Previous to the representation a violent altercation took place between the author and the manager. Johnson, like too many authors, little acquainted with stage effect, pertinacicusly rejected the advice of Garrick, and would by no means submit his lines to the critical amputation of the nianager, till at length through the interference of a friend to both parties, he gave way to the proposed alterations, at least in part; and the tragedy was produced.
Before the curtain was drawn up, Johnson's friends were alarmed by the whistling of cat-calls; but the prologue, written by the author in a manly strain, soothed the audience, and the play went off tolerably well till it came to the conclusion, when Mrs. Pritchard, the heroine of the piece, was to be strangled upon the stage, and was to speak two lines with the bow-string about her neck. The audience cried out - Murder! murder !'-She several times attempted to speak, but in vain : at last she was obliged to go cif the stage alive. This passage was afterwards struck out, and she was carried off to be put to death behind the scenes, no doubt at the suggestion of Mr. Garrick, to which if the author had attended in time, his compliance might have saved his play. However it is said that he acquiesced without a murmur in the unfavourable decision of the public upon his tragedy, and it appears he was convinced that dramatic writing was not his fort, as he was never known to have made another effort in that species of composition.
On the 20th of March 1750, he published the first paper of the Rambler, and continued it withcut in